Today we are continuing in Matthew 26 where we left off last week.
The sermon can be heard here by clicking on the blue link and following the instructions on the page that will open.
You can read the passage online here.
For most of the time, we live in a society where we feel fairly safe. There are times however, when the normal rules do not apply, when events seem to develop their own momentum and things spiral out of control. We have seen these things in other parts of the world as well as much closer to home in riot situations and the like. To be in the centre of an event like this must be truly terrifying. There is that sort of feel at this stage in the account of the Lord’s final hours before the cross. There are armed gangs, volatile crowds and an occupying army with a tendency towards violence. As the storm intensifies, only one person seems to be in control and he appears to be the most helpless of all. For the Lord Jesus Christ, the hour has come. This is the Passion of the Christ.
The Ruthless High Priest. Caiaphas is a well known historical figure his name is recorded in the lists of the High Priests and in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. He is also unique in that he is the only person in the New Testament whose mortal remains have been found. His family tomb was discovered in 1990 and an ossuary (a small coffin containing bones) was discovered bearing his name. Before the bones were reburied, they were dated to the exact time of Caiaphas. There is plenty information available on this online, just put the Ossuary of Caiaphas into Google.
To be fair, his role was difficult, balancing the interest of the Jewish nation whilst at the same time satisfying the demands of the Romans. Jerusalem would become a powder keg during the Passover with its population more than doubling.
The first reference to him in scripture is found in John 11:45-57 where the leaders of the nation are discussing what to do with Jesus following the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Caiaphas cuts right to the heart of the problem and states that Jesus will have to be killed.
He was obviously a very intelligent man, he was certainly decisive and ruthless yet he missed the obvious. On hearing of the miracles that were performed by the Lord Jesus, Caiaphas’ reaction is that Jesus must die. He even widens his plan to include Lazarus after hearing of his rising from the dead. Surely the question should be, “are these miracles genuine, and if so what does it mean? Jesus stated that the miracles were a witness as to who he was, all of this is missed by Caiaphas who presses on with his policy.
At the crucial moment of the trial, he again cuts to the heart of the issue with his question; “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Caiaphas had a default setting, he is convinced that Jesus is an imposter but his default setting was wrong. Today there is a default setting in what is the accepted wisdom and in the media. The accepted wisdom declares that ‘we know that there is no God’ but as with Caiaphas, the default setting is wrong.
The Lawless Council. Any brief examination of Jewish Law is the first century will show that in the trials of Jesus, the law was trampled upon. There are so many examples including the lying witnesses. There was no investigation, the verdict had been decided. This was no more than a ‘show trial.’
As the trial moves on, it becomes an opportunity for physical abuse. They punch and spit on Christ. In one way, they do what the human race has always wanted to do, to spit in the face of God. Humanity has been in rebellion against God since the fall. Jesus warned them, he is the Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
Christ will not be ignored; we will all stand before him one day. It is ironic that even as they mock Christ and challenge him to prophecy, one of his prophecies is being fulfilled at that very moment with Peter’s third denial.
The Faithless Disciple. As we saw last week, the Lord had revealed to the disciples that they would all desert him. The disciples insist that they will all be there for Jesus, Peter even saying that he is prepared to die rather than desert Jesus. When the armed mob arrive to arrest Jesus, Peter shows great courage, attempting to fight the group single handed with his sword and it was only the intervention of the Lord Jesus that probably saved Peter’s life.
Matthew tells the story that is very familiar. Of course, Jesus knew precisely what would occur. Peter followed at a distance and watches the trial from the courtyard and as Peter is questioned by servant girls, his courage unravels. When asked a third time if he was with Jesus, “Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man”. The curses here are not so much profanity as an assertion that he should be cursed if he indeed did know Jesus. As anyone who has read the story will know, it was at this exact time that Peter heard the sound of the cockerel crowing and remembers the words of Jesus.
It’s easy to dissect Peter’s actions, to spot exactly where he went wrong and to see what he should have said and done. The problem for many of us is that we have followed Peter down the same sad path, we may not have actually denied Christ but we have let him down and the sound of the cockerel crowing, reminding us of our failures is sadly familiar.
The Peerless Saviour. In the chaos and sin one stands alone, beaten and spat upon yet glorious and totally in control. There are several things going on here but I’ll just concentrate on a few.
The Levitical Priesthood is finished. The Old Covenant is obcelete and the New Covenant is beginning. Notice that the High Priest tore his robes when he heard Jesus say that he was the Messiah. Robes were torn to express grief and anguish at this time but Leviticus made it clear that no High Priest could tear his robes since he represented the people before God.
“The high priest, the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not let his hair become unkempt or tear his clothes. (Leviticus 21:10)”
This pictures the end of one covenant and the beginning of another. This is from Hebrews.
“When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:11-14)”
He has already said that he could have called twelve legions of angels, yet, he endured the abuse of men. He, who had calmed an angry crowd and even a mighty storm, remained silent and allowed himself to be treated so cruelly.
In Luke’s Gospel we read that at the moment of Peter’s third denial, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61). We can imagine that look, piercing through the darkness and the crowd. The question that I’ve thought about a lot in recent days is; what kind of look was it? Was it a look of disappointment or even judgment? If we look again at the narrative, evidence shows that far from being disappointed, Jesus knew exactly what would happen on that night. He had not only prayed for Peter but had a plan for his restoration. The look that broke Peter’s heart was a look of love; Jesus was after all about to die for him.
As I’ve written already, many of us are like Peter in that we have let the Lord down. We have heard the cockerel crow as it were and we feel the guilt but just as Christ looked at Peter, he also looks at us. He looks with love and grace. A grace that is bigger than our sin. A love demonstrated on the cross. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) The love of Christ compels us to live in the freedom that was won for us in his death and resurrection.